ESV - 25 They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?
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In my opinion, those who questioned John would have been familiar with the symbolism of what John was doing due to multiple references in the Mosaic Law to sprinkling an item or a person with blood, oil, or water as a means of ceremonial cleansing or consecration (as found in passages such as Exodus 24:8, Exodus 29:21 and Numbers 8:6-7), as well as in the prophets, such as Ezekiel 36:25. Also, according to reference sources on the history of religion, in the period between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, Gentile converts to Judaism were immersed in a pool of flowing water as a symbol of their adoption as an Israelite, and so that they could then enter the temple to take part in sacrifices (although this practice was not based on a direct command or requirement from God). (I believe the Hebrew term for this ritual is Tvilah.)
In John 1:25 they were not asking what is baptism, baptisms were common place in the every day Jewish life style. What they wanted to know is by what authority are you doing this. Acts covers about 60 years. The transitions from the separate walks of Jews and Gentiles (Acts 10:28) into the body of Christ, where all are one in Christ (Eph. 1:10; Gal. 3:28) is referenced as the removal of the "middle wall of separation" (Eph 2:14-15). During this time frame you'll see saved Jews keeping the law doing many kinds of baptisms (ceremonial cleansing or washing Heb 9:10), commanded by the law, and Gentile believers not under the Jewish law system (Acts 15:22-29) and not required to be baptized. So you find Jews practicing a physical washing at the same time one is spirit washed and becomes saved sometimes. But they are distinctly different. There is NO salvation in water baptisms. It takes a spiritual baptism to make a spiritual change.
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